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Charleston named the No. 1 city in the U.S. again, No. 2 in the world

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Rainbow Row (copy)

Rainbow Row on East Bay Street is one of downtown Charleston's popular tourist attractions. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Charleston is the nation's No. 1 city again, and No. 2 in the world, according to the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine.

The recognition comes at a time when residents are increasingly worried about the peninsula's capacity to handle more visitors. 

The results of this year's survey were released Tuesday morning. Readers were asked to rate cities they had visited on sights/landmarks, culture/arts, restaurants/food, people/friendliness, shopping and value. 

This is the fifth consecutive year the magazine's readers have named Charleston the nation's top city. Charleston was the top city in the world last year. This year San Miguel de Allende in Mexico took the top global spot.

Two of Charleston’s hotels, The Vendue and Zero George, ranked among the top 15 in the country this year. The city's top restaurants also consistently get national attention, but restaurants were not included in these survey results.

"Charleston is that rare destination that, on paper, seems to have it all — and then totally lives up to the hype," the magazine says on its website.

The Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau immediately posted the news on its website and social media feeds, with the invitation, "Plan your trip to the No. 1 city in the U.S."

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"The No. 1 rankings continue to positively impact tourism, the number one economic driver to the Charleston area," the CVB said in a written statement.

The College of Charleston's Office of Tourism Analysis counted 5.1 million visitors in 2015, for an economic impact of $3.7 billion and 41,000 jobs. The number this year is likely to be closer to 6 million, and the latest estimate of the economic impact is $4.2 billion. Without a doubt, the tourism industry is a major employer.

The concern is how many more tourists the city can handle without sacrificing the charm that has made it such a popular a destination. There's also the concern that hotels and the businesses that cater to them are driving up real estate and rental prices.

Mayor John Tecklenburg has unsuccessfully tried to slow a wave of new hotel construction and is asking council at least to require developers to include parking plans in future hotels to minimize traffic problems.

USA Today noted concerns over the city’s increasing popularity last month, in an article that led with the sentence, “We’re flattered, but please stop.”

The article cited worries not only over increasing traffic but rising rental rates and restaurant staffing shortages because of the tourist influx.

"The people who live here are frustrated and don’t want to see Charleston continue to be number one on these lists,” Jamee Haley, executive director of Lowcountry Local First, told the newspaper. "I want to see local businesses prosper in our community, but we must be careful of not killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

Actually, Charleston residents have been concerned about the effect of the growing tourist industry for quite some time. The city adopted its first tourism-management plan in 1978, becoming the first in the nation to do so. A 2015 update noted that the goal is to preserve "the equilibrium between residential life and tourism activity."

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.

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